Unlocking the Goodness of Grains Part 1: Millets Day 2: Unlocking the Goodness of Grains Part 1: Millets

Unlocking the Goodness of Grains Part 1: Millets

Grains are the heart of what we eat, a fundamental part of our daily meals, especially in the diverse landscape of Indian cuisine.

Think of grains as nature’s powerhouses! They come in a variety of types, each with its own unique taste and texture. Grains are like nature's fuel, packed with things that keep our bodies strong, like fiber for digestion, iron for blood, and protein for growth.

There are a variety of grains, including some that you use daily. Examples of grains include millets, wheat, rice, barley, corn, oats, bulgur, sorghum, amaranth, and quinoa. Today we will start with the most promising of the lot: the humble millet!

Say Hello to Millets!

Did you know that millets are believed to be one of the oldest grains cultivated by humans?

Cultivated in India for over 5000 years, millets are whole grains that are a nutritional powerhouse. For many ancient Indian civilizations, millets were the staple food.

In fact, just six decades ago, millets comprised about 40% of the cultivated grains in India (surpassing even rice and wheat). When the Green Revolution occurred, millets lost their prominence in an effort to increase the cultivation of wheat and rice. Millets were unfortunately labeled the “poor man’s food.” They faded away into obscurity until recently, when people started recognizing and promoting the goodness of these ancient grains.

Today, millets are regaining their prominence and popularity globally and in India, with India being the largest producer of this group of grains. While the Indian Government declared the year 2018 as the “National Year of Millets” to promote their cultivation and consumption, the United Nations designated 2023 as the “International Year of Millets.”

Why Are Millets So Popular in India?


Here are the top 4 reasons why millets are a popular choice for us Indians:

      • Nutritionally dense: They’re packed with protein, antioxidants, and nutrients.
      • Faster cultivation: They’re easy and quick to grow (they mature in half the time it takes for rice/wheat)
      • Drought-tolerant: They can grow easily in environments with very little water.
      • Low maintenance: They require no fertilizer and are pest and disease resistant.

The Great Health Benefits of Millets


Excellent source of dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble). Insoluble fiber is a “prebiotic” (food for the good bacteria) and helps build a healthy gut.

Essential nutrients 

Vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, protein, potassium, magnesium, copper, and manganese are essential for bone strength and cardiovascular health.


Antioxidants help our body fight against infections, illness, and aging.

Complex carbs 

Complex carbs are slowly digestible starch that releases sugar in the body over a longer time. This helps regulate blood sugar. Millets are high energy foods that keep us full for longer.

Different Types of Millets


Local name

English name


Nutritional benefits

How to use


Ragi or nachani

Finger millet

  • One of the most popular millets used to make baby food (ragi porridge or kanji are usually one of the first foods. 
  • Rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus, fiber, and thiamine. Calcium in ragi is 10 times higher than that in wheat or rice. 
  • Sprouting ragi improves the quality of nutrients and makes it easier to digest. 

Use it to make dosa, idli, or pancakes.



Pearl millet

  • Richest source of iron compared to all other millets! 
  • Has more iron, fat, calcium, and phosphorus, when compared to rice.
  • High in protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.

Use it to make porridge, rotis, bhakri, and khichdi.




  • High in protein, fiber, and antioxidants

Make jowar-ragi porridge (sweetened with dates/banana), jowar appe, muthiya, roti, or bhakri


Kangni or kakum

Foxtail millet

  • Rich in protein, fiber, and minerals like iron and calcium, which help strengthen the baby’s nervous system.

Use it to make porridge, khichdi, upma, or dosa.


Samai or kutki

Little millet

  • Excellent source of fiber, protein, and minerals like iron and magnesium. 
  • Cooks faster than the other millets (due to short grain size).

Use as a substitute for rice in any recipe that traditionally uses rice.

Make payasam/kheer (sweetened with fruits/dates), upma, and dosa.


Kodo or kodra

Kodo millet

  • Contains more of “lecithin,” an amino acid that helps in strengthening the neurological system.
  • Packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, B Vitamins (niacin, B6, folic acid), and minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc).

Use it to make khichdi, upma, idli, and pongal. 



Barnyard millet

  • Rich in calcium, phosphorus, and iron.
  • Good fiber content

Use it to make upma, pongal, kheer, chilla, pulao, etc. 


Chena or barri

Proso millet

  • Has the highest phosphorus content amongst all millet varieties! Phosphorus is necessary for a strong immune system.
  • Contains high lecithin content, which supports nervous system function.

Use it to make idli, dosa, upma, etc.

    Choking, Gagging, or Allergies

    Millets are not a choking hazard, but as is the case with any kind of food, we want to ensure our babies are sitting upright during meal times and are supervised by an adult.

    There can be gagging initially when introducing millets especially if cooked in the rice-like texture, but that’s normal and this reflex eases out as the baby gets used to the food.

    Millets are not a common allergen; however, allergies can occur for any food as people react differently to it. So, it’s best to keep a close eye on your baby during and after mealtimes, and consult your doctor if you have concerns.

    3 Expert Tips for Cooking with Millets

    1) Toast it: A secret tip to extract more flavor from millets is to lightly toast the seeds before using them (if the grains are unpolished or unprocessed).

    2) Make it chewy: For a rice- or quinoa-like consistency (a bit chewy), use 2 cups of water for 1 cup of millet.

    3) Make it creamy: For a porridge-like consistency (creamy), use 3 cups of water for 1 cup of millet

    Incorporating Millets in Your Family Diet

    Millets are great for children and adults, so don’t hesitate next time you decide to replace the usual dal or rice with any of these powerhouse millets!

    Here are some quick, easy millet-based recipes:

    1) Millet porridge: Millet porridges can be made using fruits. Try making porridge using ragi, rice, moong dal, and jowar. Add some fresh fruits and some milk and you have a well-balanced meal for your baby or even a nutritious breakfast for the whole family!

    2) Millet Chapati, paratha, bhakri, koki: An easy way to incorporate millets into your family diet is by using a combination of flours while making chapati or paratha. E.g., use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% millet-based flour like ragi/jowar/bajra.

    3) Millet chilla, pancake, crepe: Replace maida or wheat flour while making pancakes. Instead, use ragi/bajra/kodo flour to make delicious and nutritious pancakes that the whole family will devour.

    4) Millet idli, dosa, uttapam, appe: Idli is a great food for babies, kids, and adults, and almost all millet varieties can be used to make them. So next time try substituting rice with ragi, kodo, little millet, foxtail millet, or proso millet – to add more variety and texture to your family’s diet.

    5) Millet fried rice, pulao, khichdi: Millet varieties like foxtail millet or little millet are easy substitutes for rice. Since they’re so versatile, you can use them to make anything from khichdi to fried rice or pulao.

    6) Popped Millet: Did you know that you can pop millet like popcorn? However, a word of caution: popped millet is not recommended for babies (choking risk), but feel free to serve popped millet to older children and adults in the family.

    7) Millet Cake: Cakes made with millet flours can be as delicious as the ones made with maida. And what’s more, millet-based cakes will have so much more nutrition! How about baking your baby’s first birthday cake using ragi, foxtail, or jowar?

    MILLETS: Age-Wise Recipes & Tips

    6 to 8 months

    1) Serve with a spoon: Cook millets in a thick porridge/khichdi/pongal-like consistency and serve it to your baby with a spoon or offer it on a preloaded spoon for your baby to hold the spoon themselves and bring it to their mouth.


    2) Thick, scoopable consistency: Cook millets and mix with thick dal/mashed pulses/meat/curd/mashed veggies and ghee, and let the baby use their hands to scoop it up and eat.


    3) Millet patties/balls: Make balls/log-like shape from the cooked millets by mixing with mashed pulses, potato, oats, or besan. Let your baby grab and hold it with their hands (which improves their palmer grasp), so they can bring it to their mouth.


    4) Pancakes/chillas: Cut 2 finger-thick long strips from pancakes or chillas, and let your baby hold and eat them.

    9 to 11 months

    1) Millet bowls: Millets can replace rice preparations and be served as a one-pot meal with dal/sambhar/kadhi; pulses like rajma, chole, chana (flatten the cooked pulses before serving); sabjis; chicken/meat curries in a soft scoopable form. 


    2) Finger foods: Millet roti, paratha, chilla, dosa, idli, pancake, or idiyappam can be broken into 1-inch small pieces and served to encourage self-feeding. 

    - Cut roti/paratha into bite-sized pieces and offer it dipped with sabjis/curries 

    - Cut idli into bite-sized pieces and serve dipped in sambhar.

    - Cut dosa into long or small strips, and offer it dipped in sambhar or less spicy chutney, vegetable gravy, egg/chicken gravy, or curd.

    - Iddiappam dipped in coconut milk, vegetable/chicken stew, or egg kurma


    3) Cutlets/burger/patties/fritters: Incorporate millets along with chopped/grated veggies/boiled shredded chicken/minced meat to make soft hand-held patties or cutlets (shallow-fry them). Break them into bite size pieces so your baby can pick and eat with their hands.


    4) Millet pulao with curd or rajma (flatten the cooked rajma).

    12 to 24 months

    Experiment and add as much variety as you can!


    Offer millets in many different forms. Introduce the concept of flavors and spices. Try millet salads, noodles, pasta, fried rice, pulaos, and stir fries, along with the varieties mentioned above. 


    You can mash the millets slightly so they stick together and your baby can easily scoop them up. It’s alright if they’re not using spoons right now; they will eventually learn, so encourage them to dive in with their hands!

    Tomorrow, we explore everyone’s favorite grain: rice! Did you know rice comes in a variety of colors? So stay tuned.

    Learn the right ways to nourish from experts